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Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Farm Bureau president lays out legislative agenda for 2015

post by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, business, elba, NY Farm Bureau

Heading into the 2015 legislative session, the top priority for the New York Farm Bureau is immigration reform, said Dean Norton, bureau president, during a media conference call this morning.

The Elba resident is in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with members of New York's congressional delegation to represent farmers' interests.

"We need a stable, legal, reliable workforce," Norton said. "What we have now is broken. A stable workforce on our farms means a stable rural economy."

The Farm Bureau is calling on Washington to create a visa program or temporary worker program that will make it easier for farmers to hire and retain farm workers and not worry about all of their workers being taken away by immigration officials without notice.

"Everybody (in Washington) understands there's a problem, but neither side trusts and has faith in the other side to deal fairly," Norton said. "Both sides want to hold immigration as a political football."

The Farm Bureau is also looking for clarification from the FDA on food safety rules and there's been some progress on that front, Norton said.

Until recently, a small dairy farm with gross revenue of $500,000 that also grows a few strawberries for a fruit stand would face reams of regulations for the strawberry operation, but the FDA will start to apply those rules to $500,000 per crop, so the strawberry operation would not be covered in that circumstance.

Still a top priority for the Farm Bureau is the EPA's proposed rule change on what constitutes navigable waters. Farmers remain concerned that rule changes would bring into regulation small --- even very small -- bodies of water on farms.

"We continue to push the EPA for a clarification on the rules," Norton said. "Of the comments sent in by individuals, 58 percent of the comments ask the EPA to start over and become better partners with agriculture and come up with rules that are better for everybody."

Also on today's conferance call was Elisabeth Walters, director of national affairs, who said the Farm Bureau is paying close attention to the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, and is pushing for trade reform and reforms in tax structure to encourage more farmers to donate crops to local food pantries.

Norton said farmers want greater access to foreign markets, which means trade agreements, and the president should have greater authority to reach trade deals. 

Rep. Chris Collins has publicly opposed the idea, and Norton said he would be meeting with Collins today to discuss the issue with him.

"The reason we're in favor of it is that our trading partners want to deal with one person, not negotiate with 365," Norton said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 1:42 pm

City, mall merchants appear ready for mediation on long-simmer disputes

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, city centre, mall merchants association

So far, attorneys have been paid a combined $207,000 for the City of Batavia and the Mall Merchants Association to battle in court over who is responsible for what in the rapidly deteriorating structure.

There's a chance now the case may go to mediation, the City Council was informed Monday night.

After losing a motion for a summary judgement, City Manager Jason Molino said the MMA is willing to submit to mediation. 

A final agreement on mediation has not be completed.

The city and MMA have locked horns over responsibility for concourse maintenance, major repairs, ownership and governance.

In 2009, the MMA filed suit against the city.

Since then, the city has spent $104,199 on legal fees, while the suit has cost the mall merchants $103,317, according to Molino's memo.

"A thriving and healthy City Centre is critical to the City's downtown revitalization, and the City is very interested in an overall resolution that will best support long-term and prosperous solutions for all parties involved," Molino wrote.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm

City set to receive funds to provide grants to small businesses

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business

A $200,000 federal grant could help create from five to 10 new businesses in Batavia, the City Council was told Monday night.

The "micro-enterprise" grant program is designed to help fund businesses with fewer than five employees either through a start-up or growth phase.

The minimum federal requirement for the program is that five business owners receive benefits and five new jobs are created.

Recipients would be required to attend classes at GCC's Best Center covering the fundamentals of owning and operating a business, including planning, legal issues, accounting and financing. 

The program would be supervised by the Batavia Development Corp. with the assistance of a grant administrator.

In total, $150,000 would be available for grants to small business owners, with $31,300 for program delivery, $10,000 for grant administration, and $8,700 for classroom instruction.

The money given out would be in the form of grants, not loans.

City Manager Jason Molino told council members that it's his understanding the federal government would require some sort of claw back for businesses that fail or move out of the city within the first three years after receiving the grant.

The City Council will vote on a resolution to accept the federal money at its March 9 meeting.

Friday, February 20, 2015 at 3:13 pm

By mid-April, what's left of the Wiard Plow factory buildings will exist only in pictures

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Wiard Fire, Wiard Plow

Old industrial buildings off of Swan Street that weren't destroyed by arson in 2010 are being felled by code enforcement in 2015.

Tom Mancuso, current owner of what was once the Wiard Plow Factory, appeared in City Court today to update Judge Michael Del Plato on his progress toward bringing the property into code compliance after citations were issued by the City of Batavia.

The case was continued to April 17, giving Mancuso time to complete demolition of the half-dozen brick structures on the property.

The only thing that will be left of what was once one of Batavia's landmark companies will be the former office building, which is owned by Smart Design and undergoing renovation.

Two of the old factory buildings were destroyed in a fire in 2010 that was deliberately set by a 14-year-old resident of the city. (For The Batavian's complete and comprehensive coverage of the fire and its aftermath, click here.)

For decades after Wiard Plow closed up shop, the buildings were used to house several small businesses. The Mancuso family invested money to help bring in business and support those businesses, but the buildings were all vacant by the time of the fire.

Tom Mancuso still had plans for the wood and brick industrial buildings, but the fire was a big set back.

"The arson fire destroyed everything we had invested," Mancuso said. "The insurance proceeds did not cover the loss, so we came out of pocket on the fire and now we're going to be out of pocket again on the demolition."

It took some time to get the necessary demolition permits from the state, but Mancuso is through that process and a contractor is on site, preparing the property to be ripped apart beam-by-beam, brick-by-brick.

Asked how much the demolition is costing his company, Mancuso said, "Too much. More than we have."

Still, Mancuso is looking at the bright side.

"It will make the street better," Mancuso said. "It's a good thing for the community. You hope something good will come of it. For years, we've tried to find somebody to build something or do something there so we can redevelop it. We'll hope this allows something good to happen sooner."

Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Chamber of Commerce offers two tours - China and Thailand/Hong Kong

post by Billie Owens in business

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce is offering a tour of China, as well as a tour of Thailand and Hong Kong.

This will be the Chamber’s 11th trip to China with more 1,000 travelers having taken advantage of this unique opportunity to see first-hand how business is done in China while experiencing many of the most famous sightseeing destinations such as the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. This year’s trip will visit new locations never offered before on previous Chamber China tours.

The China tour will depart on Oct. 14 and return on Oct. 22.

The Thailand and Hong Kong tour is a new offering from the Chamber this year. It is through the same company as the China trip, Citslinc International, and offers the same exceptional value and experience. Travelers will experience the culture, famous landmarks and architectural details that Thailand and Hong Kong have to offer.

The Thailand and Hong Kong tour will depart on Oct. 31 and return Nov. 8.

Both trips include air fare, four and five-star hotel stays, three meals each day, deluxe bus tours, English-speaking tour guides, admission tickets to all tourist spots and airport taxes.

For more information visit the Chamber’s Web site www.geneseeny.com or contact the Chamber at 585-343-7440.

Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Don't forget to RSVP for March 6 annual GCEDC meeting and luncheon at Batavia Downs

post by Billie Owens in business

The annual meeting and luncheon of the Genesee County Economic Development Center will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 6, at Batavia Downs. To register, please contact Rachael Tabelski, GCEDC marketing and communications director, at  rtableski@gcedc.com or phone her ar 343-4866.

2014 was certainly an exciting year from an economic development standpoint as unemployment was at a historic low of 4.8 percent in August, per capita income grew 6.16 percent, and businesses invested more than $50 million in our community. The food industry across the region, and especially in Genesee County, continues to flourish while investment and developments at the WNY STAMP project occur on a daily basis.  

The GCEDC Annual Meeting is an opportunity for you to find out what has been achieved in Genesee County over the last year and to get a exclusive preview of what the economic landscape will look like for 2015. The Annual Meeting is also an excellent opportunity to network with economic and elected leaders from around the region. At the event the GCEDC will also unveil the "2015 Economic Development Partner of the Year Award."

Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Local developer announces plans to restore and preserve Mid-century building in city's central corridor

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, D.A. Tufts Construction, preservation

There are few examples of Mid-century Modern architecture in Batavia, especially among commercial buildings, and one that has been neglected for a long time has found a savior.

D.A. Tufts Construction has purchased 438 East Main Street, which is at the corner of Main and Harvester and is perhaps most often thought of as the former WBTA building.

Dave Tufts said he's admired the building since he was a little kid and is a big fan of Mid-century Modern, so he want to be sure to preserve the era's clean lines and Jetson-style modernism of the structure.

"It's one of my favorite periods, so we're excited about it, to be honest with you," Tufts said. 

Tufts plans to convert the 2,900-square-foot first floor to office space, suitable for business or medical use, and the second floor will become two large apartments (1,300 square feet each) with open floor plans (appropriate for the era) and high-end amenities.

In a statement about their plans, the Tufts said, "The repurposing of the building goes along with the current trend of people returning to urban areas to enjoy downtown living."

They will also construct two more apartments on the property and all four apartments will have private garages.

The exterior will be upgraded with a new entry way and balconies for the apartments, but preserve the stamped brick facade common to the Mid-century Era and simple lines that dominate the look and feel of the current building.

The last tenant of the building, T-Shirts Etc., moved downtown four years ago, and the building has been vacant since. It's sort of gone to seed over all those winters and summers of emptiness.

Renovation work has begun inside, but there's a lot of work ahead for his crews, Tufts said, to bring out the best the building has to offer.

Tufts said Julie Pacatte, economic development coordinator for the city, has helped them throughout the planning process.

Pacatte said she helped the Tufts by developing a marking list for potential office space tenants and also helped them with an application for a grant from National Grid for main street revitalization projects, which she expects will be approved.

"We're thrilled about the project," Pacatte said, because it hits on so many of the city's economic development goals -- from providing mix-use buildings; bringing more viable commercial space and residential space to the central city corridor; and providing higher-end housing (apartments with garages) that doesn't currently exist in the market.

"We love that they're honoring the architectural style of the property," Pacatte said.

Lucine Kauffman, president of the Genesee County Landmark Society, said the Tufts' plans sound like good news.

"I think it's great to start raising awareness to start saving Mid-century buildings," Kauffman said. "When we think about preservation, we usually think of buildings from the 1800s, especially in this area, but there are a lot from the first half of the last century that are certainly worth preserving."

Converting a former commercial building into a mix-use structure (apartments and commercial) fits right in with the trend nationally toward what planners call "new urbanism," Kauffman said, which has so many benefits for local communities, such as economic growth and reduced crime, and it's good for the environment, by reducing the need for commutes and not filling landfills with demolished buildings.

"It's especially true in a city like Batavia, where there has been so much urban renewal and so much devastation," Kauffman said. "I think it's important to move forward and make the best of what we have now. When you see the plans for the Save-A-Lot building, what was done with the Williams building (Alberty Drugs), and what Tompkins has done with their building where WBTA is now, where they're kind of dressing it up, that's the best we can hope for, where people make the best of it."

Kauffman is aware Mid-century Modern may not be to everyone's liking, but that doesn't mean Mid-century Modern shouldn't be preserved.

"Buildings don't have to be grand," Kauffman said. "They don't have to be fancy. They don't have to be anything. They don't have to be esthetically pleasing to everyone. So long as a building represents a specific era or a specific architectural style, it's worth saving."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 5:02 pm

David Steel, exec at digital marketing agency Sneeze.it, gives free presentation at GCC

post by Billie Owens in business

Press release:

David Steel, the celebrated expert in marketing and social media is coming to Genesee Community College, Batavia Campus, at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, to share his presentation "Be Heard: Influence Marketing -- Locating, Engaging & Motivating Customers Online."

The event is FREE and open to the public and will take place inside the Conable Technology Department / T102 Lecture Hall. (The program will be (video/audio) streamed to all six of GCC's Campus Centers in Albion, Arcade, Dansville, Lima, Medina and Warsaw.)

Steel is the chief viral officer of Sneeze.it, a digital marketing agency, a division of The Steel Method. He is the author of "The Care and Feeding of Highly Aggressive Sales People" and also the soon-to-be-released, "Sneeze.it." A renowned keynote speaker, author, motivator and marketing strategist, Steel is widely recognized for his ability to help organizations monetize their social networks. At Sneeze.it, he teaches company executives the fundamentals of utilizing social media channels to attract prospects, build a lead pipeline and convert those leads into paying customers. He has a proven track record of turning business owners from social media novices into savvy social media marketers.

Steel has captivated audiences from New York to Nairobi with interactive speaking engagements that teach guests how to create targeted landing pages, use LinkedIn InMails and Facebook ads/tabs to successfully market their products and services. His presentation illustrates how to think and act like a consumer, and how to establish trust within a brand. Participants will learn the many ways companies get their message and brand out to the masses using a variety of social media and marketing tricks and tips.

Steel's visit to GCC is being sponsored by the College's CEO (Collegiate Entrepreneur's Organization) Club, Business Forum Club and DECA (Distributive Education Club of America) Club. Following the presentation, Steel will have copies of his book available for autographs.

Saturday, February 14, 2015 at 3:26 pm

After six months under new ownership, p.w. minor is a company transformed

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, p.w. minor

When Pete Zeliff and Andrew Young first walked onto the factory floor of the p.w. minor building on Treadeasy Avenue, they knew nothing about the shoe industry.

"We could tie our own shoes," Young said with a wry smile Friday morning following a tour of the production line with Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

In the six months since Zeliff and Young rescued the 150-year-old shoe factory from closure, the two local businessmen have not only proven quick studies of the shoe business, they've pulled the firm from the brink of an abyss and placed it on the precipice of success.

After his walking tour, Hawley was impressed with what he saw and heard.

"With Pete and Andrew's investment here, and their hard work, the possibility of success in their eyes, their demeanor, and the people I've seen here working today with their smiles, you can see it," Hawley said. "It's great for the local economy, it's great for Western New York, to see people take a chance and that's what these two gentlemen have done. The State of New York ought to use them and p.w. minor as an example of how to be successful."

As neophytes in the shoe business, when Zeliff and Young first sat in their new offices, they wondered, why do shoes that feel good on your feet need to look dowdy and unimaginative?

The p.w. minor speciality are shoes designed and constructed for people with orthopedic needs, but why should orthopedic shoes be frumpy?

"We've been able to, with some stitching and some designs and some beautiful leathers that we're using, to upgrade those shoes," Young said. "The same lasts (forms used to make shoes), same fit, same feel, but it looks way more 'today,' I guess would be the word."

p.w. minor has long had some great-looking shoes in its line -- one shoe was bought as a prop for the former HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," after all -- and there are high-end brands that turn to p.w. minor to shod voguish-minded Wall Street bankers and urban hipsters.

But the persistent image of p.w. minor is for shoes that favor comfort over fad, In recent years, much of the shoe line had the look of something a doctor might prescribe to dowagers or retired postmen.

"When we got here, we were wondering why people who had to wear shoes that they needed for their feet, but they couldn't also look good," Young said.

One of the first of their new hires was a shoe designer out of Michigan who had experience with shoe company turnarounds.

Every shoe the company sells is getting a makeover. The first samples of the new line will make their industry debut at a trade show in Las Vegas.

"This is a company that designed about three shoes in the previous decade and we're going to a show next week where we're going to introduce three dozen shoes," Young said.

Of course, nobody is going to buy shoes if there are no feet on the street selling the revamped shoe lines to retailers and distributors.

The old p.w. minor got rid of the last of its sales staff years ago, Young said. He and Zeliff have hired five new sales reps so far and plan to hire as many as five more.

"That's already paying dividends," Young said. "We need to get our name out there. I think most of the marketplace thought we were basically dead, and there was good reason for that because we sort of were. I think they're starting to see, and they will really see it at this show next week, that we're definitely back."

The total new hires for Zeliff and Young is 16 so far, and Young says there's more to come. Part of the reason to let the media tag along on Friday's tour was to get the word out locally that p.w. minor is truly a new company. It's a place people should want to work, Young said, and Young wants to attract the best local employees.

p.w. minor was also a company that needed to do a better job of meeting the needs of existing customers. To that end, back orders have been cut tremendously. The company has gone from making 80 pair of shoes a day to 160. It used to take 25 to 26 days for a pair of shoes to wind through the production line. On Wednesday, the crew completed a line of shoes in 4.8 days.

That's a lot of change not just for the marketplace to absorb, but it's even been an adjustment for p.w. minor's employees.

There have certainly been some bumps along the way, Young indicated.

"I always say if I had a nickel for every time somebody says that's not the way we used to do things, I wouldn't need to sell any shoes," Young said. "This company was on a trajectory down, steeply down, and we want it to be on a trajectory steeply up. The change is sometimes hard for us to get through and hard to understand and accept. We're making great progress in that regard, but I like to say it's a big ship to turn. It's turning, but it takes some time."

Top photo: From a fit and feel perspective, the two shoes are essentially the same. They're made with the same fasts, but the one of the left uses more attractive leather and an updated design.

Hawley, Zeliff and Young in the leather room at p.w. minor.

Hawley holds another example of a p.w. minor shoe transformed by design and the material used to make it.

A pair of newly designed fashion boots near the end of production.

Soles waiting to become shoes.

A worker making a shoe.

Hawley with Young and Zeliff.

Glue on shoes.

Cork spread on the bottom of a shoe before the sole is attached. The cork helps ensure the comfort of the shoe's wearer.

This all-weather sole is on a shoe made for another company that sells it under its own brand name. Young said he and Zeliff love the sole, but it's only made in England, and p.w. minor's own shoes will be 100-percent made-in-America.

Nearly finished boots on the factory floor.

Zeliff, Hawley and Young with an employee near the end of the production line.

The slide show below is of pictures sent over by Young of some of the shoes that will be making their industry debut in Las Vegas next week.

Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Darien Lake rolls out two new rides for 2015

post by Howard B. Owens in business, Darien, darien lake theme park, tourism

Darien Lake Theme Park draws thousands upon thousands of visitors from all over Western New York each summer, but General Manager Chris Thorpe says Genesee County residents are going to be especially pleased with what they find at the park this season.

Two new massive rides are going to add a lot more value for season-pass holders, he said, and local season-pass holders are an important customer base.

"We are excited to present these two new attractions this year," Thorpe said. "We think it cements us as the best entertainment value in Western New York, particularly from a local perspective. For Batavia residents, local Genesee County residents, our season pass will offer so much more this year. We're excited to give them the opportunity to come out and visit the park frequently, over and over, to see what a great value we are."

The new rides are called Brain Drain and Rolling Thunder.

Brain Drain is a massive, seven-story waterslide that offers twin free-fall drops through tubes that loop and cross, with riders zooming through at 38 feet per second until they're blasted into a pool of water at the base.

Riders start in an enclosed launch capsule, with both riders dropping into the tube simultaneously when the floor beneath them gives way.

Roling Thunder is a compact steel loop that stands 73 feet at its apex and propels 24 riders at time through a closed loop on a high-speed train. The ride hangs passengers upside down and rockets back and forth through the loop.

Construction will begin soon and the rides are expected to be ready for opening day, May 9.

The expansion gives the park 47 rides for visitors to choose from, with enough variety to please all guests, Thorpe said.

"There's so much to do, but what's even better, is there's something for everybody in the family here," said Thorpe, who is originally from Buffalo and first started working at Darien Lake in 1995, rising to the level of general manager, transferring to other theme parks for the past couple of years and now returns home.

Noting how important Darien Lake is to the local economy in the jobs it creates and the tourism dollars it attracts, Chamber President Tom Turnbull said it was great to see the theme park adding rides.

"One of the things I've learned from our friends at Darien Lake -- they've kind of schooled me on the amusement park business -- is how important attractions are in driving attendance," Turnbull said. "To have not just one new attraction, but two new attractions means, I think, we can expect a banner year at Darien Lake."

Adding rides is a departure from last year's strategy to draw visitors to the park, using entertainment, such as the Harlem Globetrotters, a Latin music festival, and, of course, Nik Wallenda to draw in crowds.

To be sure, Wallenda brought guests to the park, but he's moving on to other venues this season and Thrope said the new rides are a good fit for what the park already offers.

"We'll still have our traditional entertainment in place, the magic shows and things like that, but last year's focus was Nik Wallenda, which was a very strong attraction," Thorpe said. "This year, we're going more with a hardware focus and looking at attractions that will peak people's interest."

The park will still work to maintain its identity as a destination with strong Western New York roots, Thorpe said, a branding effort begun by park management two seasons ago.

"It's important for us to be woven into the cultural fabric of Western New York and those things like the Anchor Bar and Tim Horton's and all the local vendors we work with are critically important to our success," Thorpe said.

Chris Thorpe explaining Rolling Thunder.

Tom Turnbull

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